The Best Things About Expat Life in Lima – Or, It’s Always Avocado Season

In celebration of Peru’s independence days, “fiestas patrias,” (July 28 is independence day and July 29 is a holiday for the armed forces and police), here is my posting about what I think is great about living in Lima. As I did for some of the other places I have lived, I have already written about what I don’t like about living in Lima. Before living in Lima, I had visited more than five times as a tourist. The first time was immortalized in this blog posting. Now that I’ve been here for more than a food-frenzied weekend, the following things are what I like about living here.

The food scene: The restaurants. It seems like every week, there is a new restaurant opening, and thanks in great part to Gaston Acurio, the culinary scene has become part of the national identity. There are fancy-foamy-intellectual dining establishments, fast food franchises, family-run restaurants, neighborhood favorites, and hole-in-the-wall secrets.

The immigrants: This is one of the reasons that the food scene in Lima is great. Thanks to the Chinese (Chifa is a normal word here for a Chinese food and restaurant, and it is as ingrained in the local food choices as hamburgers), the Japanese (Nikkei is the word used for both the food style and the Japanese Peruvians — this month celebrating 120 years in Peru), the Italians, the Lebanese, and all the other immigrants who have been been contributing to the deliciousness in Lima. Thank you to the newest (those two Thai restaurant owners, those Pakistani and Indian guys, that American with the chocolate shop, and those three Swedish ladies, that Mexican guy, and the Venezuelans, and all of those others whom I have yet to discover… I’m looking at you, shawarma palace!). Plus, many of the Peruvians are domestic immigrants — from somewhere else in the country (bringing things like their delicious cheeses… which I’m told is called “country cheese”).

The Palta Fuerte (the palta fuerte is too delicate and buttery to be exported, I’m guessing): It is always avocado season. When buying an avocado, the vendor will ask the day and time that you plan to eat it so that they can sell you one that will be ripe at the precise moment that you plan to enjoy it. “Palta” is the word for avocado in Peruvian Spanish. No one in Peru says “aquacate” even if they may know what you are talking about. At a restaurant, you can ask for a side of palta and it’s totally normal, like asking for butter (but better).

The juice (plus fruit and produce in general): the lemonade (they offer it made with pureed lemongrass at most places), the passion fruit, the orange juice, the blackberry juice. Plus, the pineapples are delicious and the mangoes have a season (like Edwardian socialites). The Edward mango is especially yummy as it has fewer fibers.

The chocolate: Go to El Cacaotal. That is my one must-do for visitors, for newbies, for chocolate haters… now serving hot chocolate and coffee!

The cultural offerings and activities: cooking classes, chocolate tasting lessons, Cordon Bleu courses, surfing classes, dance schools, wine tasting lessons, the circus, theater productions, gyms, yoga, concerts, archery sessions, wine and paint classes, museums, open studio nights, expos, marathons, fairs, farmers markets, and almost any other activity that you can imagine in a metropolis (there is always something to do). Even comicon.

The walkability: they even have ciclovia. Yes, you can walk here. There are sidewalks, parks, and hiking trails.

The neighborhoods: I like that there are actual neighborhoods, farmers markets, barrios, districts, parks, malls (mega ultra modern and local “centro commerciales”), and the coast (its own microcosm).

The positive attitude toward expats/foreigners: Generally, as a foreigner, I don’t feel hate or suspicion from the locals. The Peruvians are,  generally, pro-American culture, and certainly pro-European culture. While most Peruvians don’t approach/talk to foreigners, they also don’t harass them and follow them around (as would happen in other countries where I have lived)… It’s funny, the little things one appreciates. As a foreigner, one can have a life here without being a circus act.

The security: I am completely amazed to see people out jogging, with headphones on, at night. Granted this is along the more patrolled streets but I am still amazed. Utterly. Amazed. Every. Single. Day. Really. Still. Ah-maze-ed.

The view of the ocean: Yes. It’s amazing. Beaches too. If one likes sand.

The public toilets: Almost all grocery stores and malls have public toilets. One has to remember to not flush the toilet paper, but, at least they have toilet paper, although, not always in the actual stall — so get it beforehand.

Delivery: Like in Bogota, almost anything can be delivered.

The taxi prices: $2 for a basic short ride of a few miles. Sometimes $7 for an hour’s ride.

Help: there is always someone to carry the groceries, the taxi drivers help with luggage, the doormen help with stuff, and domestic help is a normal part of life here. I’ll write more about that in a separate posting. Aside from the domestic cleaners, there are nannies, gardeners, drivers, porters, dog walkers, DJs, caterers, dishwashers, movers… you name it. I have an “event tech” whom I hire for parties. I may change that title to “event engineer” as engineer seems to be the new generic term for “trained” (I was chatting with a taxi driver who told me that he used to be a “production engineer” — he potted yogurt in a lab. He chose to drive a taxi because the yogurt potting only paid $670 per month, double the minimum wage, but he makes double that as a taxi driver, even though he works double the hours. But, at least, he is his own boss).

The prices for dental care: as with most things, one can pay lots of money for dental care, but one can also get good dental care for $17 (cleaning and checkup). But, if one wants to pay $170, one can. Many of the dentists have trained in other countries and their certifications in those countries may not be valid here.

The prices in general: from picture framing to groceries, to clothing alterations, to the above mentioned items.

And, did I mention the palta?

Four Years of M’s Adventures

I’ve been writing this blog for four years. In terms of subjects, my informal assessment is that the social media world is most interested in Bangladesh… Or rather, my blog is one of the few about expat life in Dhaka, Bangladesh. When I check the statistics, I’m amazed that my blog has more than 3,000 readers every month.

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Having this blog has changed the way I travel, sort of. Mostly, my friends are now quite accustomed to waiting to eat so that I can take a close up photo of their food. Thank you.

 

 

List of Top 12 Expat Blogs About Colombia

The viewing platform on Isla Pirata, off the coast of Colombia.
The viewing platform on Isla Pirata, off the coast of Colombia.

After months of googling to the nubs of my fingers to read expats blogs in Colombia, I’ve compiled this list of my favorite ones. I’ve tried to concentrate on expats currently living in Bogota. Once in a while, one of the writers, living outside Bogota or living outside Colombia, has such command of the expat life that I will include him or her on my list. I’ve compiled this list based both on content and style.

1. Banana Skin Flip Flops: I think this may be the queen of expat blogs in Bogota. She has written hundreds of blog postings about her four years in Colombia so almost everything an expat might want to know is covered. This blog has a personal bloggy style which surrounds this author’s persona as a young blonde from England (which she is). That said, she is a professional journalist so this “casualness” is professionally done. Kudos to the queen.

2. Richard McColl: I include this journalist because he’s both an expat and a “global nomad” or “Third Culture Kid” (and well, I like to support members of my tribe). Plus, his writing and endeavors are “serious” journalism in the conventional sense. And he is currently living in Colombia.

3. An article from a guy who worked for See Colombia about life in Bogota. While he has moved on, I just like his writings about Bogota.

4. Flavors of Bogota: Written by an expat who’s best buddies with all the cool chefs in Bogota.

5. Bogota Eats and Drinks: I think this is also written by a long time expat. She was part of a Proexport blogger event in 2012 in Bogota. Aside from their own blogs, some of these bloggers are also guest bloggers for See Colombia. Read her article about it here. (Many thanks to the blogger for contacting me and correcting some of the facts about her blog).

6. Mike’s Bogota Blog: This guy is known for his blog about leading bike tours around Bogota, but his Bogota blog is also useful.

7-12. Here are a few from expats who live in other parts of Colombia (or only write about Colombia from their vast past experience), but there is something I liked about their blog (maybe the mention of fruit?): Transatlantic Adventure, My Former Nomad Life, Medellin Living, A Year Without Peanut Butter, Three Kids and a Cat, and Truly, Nomadly, Deeply

And to make it a baker’s dozen: I liked this article is about Colombia and I like the “cost of living index” idea of the site itself.

There are quite a few sites which collect expat blogs in general, including this one, Colombia page, which also happens to list 12 blogs in Colombia. Happy reading!

Kidnapped! 10 Stereotypes About Colombia

The ramparts of Cartagena.
The ramparts of Cartagena.

When I tell people that I’m moving to Colombia, I usually get one of two reactions. Excitement. Or excitement. Excitement about how lovely Colombia and Colombians are. Or, usually, excitement about the possible dangers. Here are the ten most common assumptions I hear about Colombia.

1. Aren’t you worried about getting kidnapped? (I wouldn’t go to Colombia if kidnapping was a guarantee. Duh!)

2. It’s dangerous. You will get mugged. Or worse. (Bogota, with seven million inhabitants, has all the usual dangers of a large city so I think my chances are equal those if I lived in New York or Bangkok)

3. Will you become a drug dealer? Or an emerald smuggler? (Why would you ask me that? Is it a conversation starter?)

4. I hear that plastic surgery is really cheap and of high quality there. Are you going to get plastic surgery? (Thanks for the suggestion?)

5. Colombian women are the hottest in the world. You will get divorced there. (Colombia ranks first in bird bio-diversity…)

6. You will get married there. (If I go to a wedding, I’ll blog about it for sure!)

7. Oh, you’ll be having a lot of romantic assignations (Okay, they put it more crassly.)

8. You will enjoy the steamy hot weather (Not in Bogota. The daily average temperature is 48-68 F, or 9-20 C)

9. Hope you like salsa because there will be lots of it. Any opportunity and Colombians start dancing! (Yup, bring on the vallenato, cumbia, hard salsa, salsa romantica, porro, and so on. More later.)

10. You will never want to leave. (The Colombian public relations slogan says, “the only danger is wanting to stay” so maybe they are right?)

Colombians and Colombia have been through violent times, but according to recent articles, times are changing in Colombia. Medellin, previously infamous, is cited as a model success story of urbanization; Cartagena is a popular tourist destination; most of the world’s cut flowers are grown in Colombia; and the culinary scene is growing. Even with all of this, people still equate Colombia with cocaine, kidnapping, and coffee.

Speaking of coffee, apparently most Colombians drink instant coffee, like Nescafe. With Starbucks’s launch, this week, of their first cafe in Colombia, it will be interesting to see how they change the cafe culture. Will Juan Valdez match the mighty marketing machine that is Starbucks? I will try them both in between my forays into new fruits.